Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Echoes of Adeline: Jump!

Echoes of Adeline is a weekly series in which I highlight a person an organization or a situation that reminds me of Adeline Paulina Irby, her values, or her life.

Do you know that feeling you get when you stand with your toes at the edge of a cliff waiting to jump into the water below? Your mind has already decided to jump, but your body does not agree with your decision. Fear has frozen you.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a lady who was visiting Bosnia from England. She is a Hercegovin from Mostar, but lives in London. She, like Adeline, is interested in Humanitarian work. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, she worked with an aid organization that served refugees. She helped numerous women and children safely escape the horrors of the war in Mostar.

Now, she is a teacher in London. Her real passion, though, is to return to humanitarian work. I asked her why she didn’t make a change. She told me that nine years have passed since she last worked in the non-profit sector and was unsure whether she could make the jump. I could the read the uncertainty in her voice. But I also heard something else. Passion. Every time she mentioned humanitarian organizations or the work she did during the war, her voice lifted with the excitement of a young girl. There was a fiery spark in her eyes.

After our thirty minute conversation I was convinced that she would succeed if she made the transition. I also understood her hesitancy to change. Uncertainty breeds doubt. Doubt makes us scared to jump. But if we don’t jump, we never get the thrill of splashing into the cool water below.

There were a few times in Adeline’s life when she had to jump. Her initial decision to travel must not have been too difficult, it was what most wealthy women in her time did. The choice to leave the beaten path and strike out into what is now Eastern Europe was probably only a little more challenging. The adrenaline of adventure covered up the fear. But, there was one moment, a little later, that made her hesitate.

She had been in Sarajevo starting one of the first schools for girls in the country when a war broke out. One hundred thousand refugees (eventually reaching 250,000) flooded across the border to find safe ground. Adeline felt an urge to help. Back in England she started foundation to help the refugees—especially the children. But, when it came time to begin the journey back to the Balkans she hesitated. She began to doubt whether she should jump.

It was actually Florence Nightingale that challenged her to go through with it. She listened. She jumped. Tens of thousands of hungry, naked, and homeless refugees would later be glad she did.

What would you do if you had enough courage to jump?

Read more about Adeline’s refugee work here.

Get the full story in Meeting Miss Irby, now available in bookstores throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina. Or just check out the first few chapters.

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